A Healthier Planet, a Healthier You

This Earth Day, use an online calculator to gauge your 'carbon footprint'

FRIDAY, April 20, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- Those of you who think you can't help stop global warming need to think again, say experts who stress that even small changes in lifestyle make a big difference.

With this Sunday being Earth Day, there's no better time to take a few minutes to figure out your "carbon footprint" -- the impact your everyday behaviors and consumption has on the planet.

To measure your "footprint," head to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Web site (www.epa.gov) for their online "Personal Emissions Calculator" tool. The calculator shows just how much you contribute to global greenhouse gas emissions -- and what you can do to reduce that burden.

"We focus on greenhouse gases that everyday people release as a result of driving or using electricity to light or heat their homes," explained Reid Harvey, chief of the Program Integration Branch at the EPA, which oversees the agency's climate change Web site and calculates the United States' "global emissions inventory."

The Personal Emissions Calculator takes about 10 minutes to complete and asks for information on a range of items, including type of home heating, annual miles driven each year, monthly expenditure on gas and electric, and recycling levels.

All that data is fed into the calculator, which then figures out your household's total annual share of greenhouse gas emissions.

The next step -- "What You Can Do to Reduce Emissions" -- can yield surprises. For example, a single-person household with a total of 17,000 pounds of yearly emissions can cut that load by another 1,200 pounds, just by replacing a dozen incandescent bulbs in the home with energy-saving compact fluorescent models.

None of that surprised Harvey. "There are a few small changes that people can make that can lead to big reductions in emissions," he said.

Kristina Johnson, a spokeswoman for the San Francisco-based environmental group the Sierra Club, agreed. Her organization recently launched the "2 Percent Solution" campaign, aimed at cutting national carbon emissions by 2 percent each year for the next 40 years. Doing so would allow the country to slash yearly greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050 -- a goal scientists say could avert a global warming crisis.

"To reach this goal, we need to start right now to make different, better decisions about the energy we use at home, at work, and as a nation," Johnson said.

She and Harvey offered some simple, cost-saving and emissions-reducing tips:

  • Drive Smart. Hybrids and other highly-efficient vehicles spew up to two-thirds less CO2 into the atmosphere as traditional models, the Sierra Club noted. Properly inflated tires and well-tuned engines will also help. The best -- and healthiest -- option of all is to leave the car at home and walk or bike it.
  • Keep a Greener House. Those "curly" fluorescent bulbs cast the same warm glow as incandescents, but last 10 times as long and use just a quarter of the electricity. If every U.S. household made the switch, it'd be like removing 8 million cars from America's roads, the Sierra Club said. When shopping for new appliances, be sure to look for models with the EPA's "Energy Star" label -- they'll cut your electric bill while helping the planet. Other planet-saving tips include adjusting heater and air conditioner thermostats by a degree or two and making sure windows and doors are sealed to reduce energy loss.
  • Seek Out Renewable Energy Sources. Many utilities now allow consumers to spend a few dollars more to purchase "green power" solely generated from wind, solar and other renewable resources. In certain states, home owners who've installed solar panels can even sell excess electricity back to their local electric company.
  • Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Did you know that recycling a four-foot stack of newspapers saves one good-sized tree? Recycling not only cuts down on emissions linked to manufacturing new products, it can also spare the world's forests, which soak up excess CO2.

Johnson stressed that, ultimately, the health of the planet will impact on the health of every individual. Global warming, in particular, is expected to lead to a surge in infectious diseases and natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes and droughts that could trigger famines. "If we don't act now, we will all be affected," she said.

The message is getting through to more and more Americans, the experts said, including 57-year-old Dan Hogan, a child mental health consultant living in Sandia Park, N.M..

Hogan, a longtime environmentalist, is busy building a self-sustaining house with high-tech, "super-insulated" walls and ceilings and solar photovoltaic cells that will provide his family with all the power it needs (with some left over to sell back to the electric company).

He's also on the waiting list for a fully electric car that's being manufactured in the Albuquerque area.

Hogan said that many of these innovations will involve an initial cash outlay, but he stressed that they soon pay for themselves. He also believes that a greener lifestyle is well within reach of the average consumer.

"Americans have an awful habit of taking a very short view," Hogan said, but when it comes to creating healthier, more environmentally friendly world, "we have to take the long view."

More information

Here's where you can find the EPA's Personal Emissions Calculator.

SOURCES: Reid Harvey, chief, Program Integration Branch, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, D.C.; Kristina Johnson, spokeswoman, Sierra Club, San Francisco; Dan Hogan, Sandia Park, N.M.
Consumer News